Wood Identification Guide

by Eric Meier

When attempting to identify a wood sample, it’s important to keep in mind the limitations and obstacles that are present in our task. Before starting, please have a look at The Truth Behind Wood Identification to approach the task in a proper mindset; I consider the linked article to be required reading for all those visiting my site with the intent of identifying wood.

1. Confirm it is actually solid wood.

Before proceeding too much farther into the remaining steps, it’s first necessary to confirm that the material in question is actually a solid piece of wood, and not a man-made composite or piece of plastic made to imitate wood.

A solid piece of Cocobolo: note how the grain naturally wraps around the sides and endgrain of the wood.

Can you see the end-grain? 

Manufactured wood such as MDF, OSB, and particleboard all have a distinct look that is—in nearly all cases—easily distinguishable from the endgrain of real wood. Look for growth rings—formed by the yearly growth of a tree—which will be a dead-giveaway that the wood sample in question is a solid, genuine chunk of wood taken from a tree.

Viewing the end of this “board” reveals its true identity: particleboard.

Is it veneered? 

If you see a large panel that has a repeating grain pattern, it may be a veneer. In such cases, a very thin layer of real wood is peeled from a tree and attached to a substrate; sometimes the veneer can be one continuous repeating piece because it is rotary-sliced to shave off the veneer layer as the tree trunk is spun by machines. Assuming it is a real wood veneer with a distinct grain and texture—and not merely a piece of printed plastic—you may still be able to identify the outer veneer wood in question, but you should still realize that is it only a veneer and not a solid piece of wood.

Large repeating patterns suggest a veneer.

Is it painted or printed to look like wood? 

Many times, especially on medium to large-sized flat panels for furniture, a piece of particleboard or MDF is either laminated with a piece of wood-colored plastic, or simply painted to look like wood grain. Many of today’s interior hardwood flooring planks are good examples of these pseudo-wood products: they are essentially a man-made material made of sawdust, glues, resins, and durable plastics.

2. Look at the color.

Some questions to immediately ask yourself:

Is the color of the wood natural, or is it stained?

If there is even a chance that the color isn’t natural, the odds are increased that the entire effort of identifying the wood will be in vain.

The reddish brown stain used on this piece of Jatoba (Hymenaea courbaril) has been planed away on top, exposing the paler color of the raw wood underneath.

Is it weathered or have a patina?

Many woods, when left outside in the elements, tend to turn a bland gray color. Also, even interior wood also takes on a patina as it ages: some woods get darker, or redder, and some even get lighter or lose their color; but for the most part, wood tends to darken with age.

Fresh sanding near the end of this Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera) board has exposed the characteristic yellow coloration of the wood, which has a strong tendency to shift down to a golden brown over time.

Is it possible to sand or plane the board to see the natural raw color of the wood?

The most predictable baseline to use when identifying wood is in a freshly sanded state. This eliminates the chances of a stain or natural aging skewing the color diagnosis of the wood.

3. Observe the wood grain.

If the wood is unfinished, then look at the texture of the grain. Ask yourself these questions:

Does the wood have an open, porous texture?

Most softwoods will be almost perfectly smooth with no grain indentations, while many common hardwoods have an open pore structure, such as oak or mahogany; though there are some hardwoods that are also smooth to the touch, such as maple.

Can you tell if the wood is quartersawn or plainsawn?

By observing the grain patterns, many times you can tell how the board was cut from the tree. Some wood species have dramatically different grain patterns from plainsawn to quartersawn surfaces. For instance, on their quartersawn surfaces, lacewood has large lace patterns, oak has flecks, and maple has the characteristic “butcher block” appearance.

Is there any figure or unusual characteristics, such as sapwood, curly or wild grain, burl/knots, etc.?

Some species of wood have figure that is much more common than in other species: for example, curly figure is fairly common in soft maple, and the curls are usually well-pronounced and close together. Yet when birch or cherry has a curly grain, it is more often much less pronounced, and the curls are spaced farther apart.

Curly Maple (sealed)
The strong, tight curl seen in this wood sample is very characteristic of Maple (Acer spp.).

4. Consider the weight and hardness of the wood.

If it’s possible, pick the piece of wood up and get a sense of its weight, and compare it to other known wood species. Try gouging the edge with your fingernail to get a sense of its hardness. If you have a scale, you can take measurements of the length, width, and thickness of the wood, and combine them to find the density of the wood. This can be helpful to compare to other density readings found in the database. When examining the wood in question, compare it to other known wood species, and ask yourself these questions:

Is the wood dry?

Wood from freshly felled trees, or wood that has been stored in an extremely humid environment will have very high moisture contents. In some freshly sawn pieces, moisture could account for over half of the wood’s total weight! Likewise, wood that has been stored in extremely dry conditions of less than 25% relative humidity will most likely feel lighter than average.

How does the wood’s weight compare to other species?

Taking into account the size of the board, how does its weight compare to other benchmark woods? Is it heavier than oak? Is it lighter than pine? Look at the weight numbers for a few wood species that are close to yours, and get a ballpark estimate of its weight.

A piece of Lignum Vitae is weighed on a small digital scale.

How hard is the wood? 

Obviously softwoods will tend to be softer than hardwoods, but try to get a sense of how it compares to other known woods. Density and hardness are closely related, so if the wood is heavy, it will most likely be hard too. If the wood is a part of a finished item that you can’t adequately weigh, you might be able to test the hardness by gouging it in an inconspicuous area. Also, if it is used in a piece of furniture, such as a tabletop, a general idea of its hardness can be assessed by the number and depth of the gouges/dings in the piece given its age and use. A tabletop made of pine will have much deeper dents than a tabletop made of Oak. Additionally, you can always try the “fingernail test” as a rough hardness indicator:  find a crisp edge of the wood, and with your fingernail try to push in as hard as you can and see if you’re able to make a dent in the wood.

5. Consider its history.

Many times we forget common sense and logic when attempting to identify wood. If you’ve got a piece of Amish furniture from Pennsylvania, chances are more likely that the wood  will be made of something like black walnut or cherry, and not African wenge or jatoba. You might call it “wood profiling,” but sometimes it can pay to be a little prejudiced when it comes to wood identification. Some common-sense questions to ask yourself when trying to identify a piece of wood:

Where did it come from?

Knowing as much as you can about the source of the wood—even the smallest details—can be helpful. If the wood came from a wood pile or a lumber mill where all the pieces were from trees processed locally, then the potential species are immediately limited. If the wood came from a builder of antique furniture, or a boat-builder, or a trim carpenter: each of these occupations will tend to use certain species of woods much more often than others, making a logical guess much simpler.

Despite its discoloration and wear, it’s very likely that this rolling pin is made of hard maple.

How old is it?

As with the wood’s source, its age will also help in identification purposes. Not only will it help to determine if the wood should have developed a natural patina, but it will also suggest certain species which were more prevalent at different times in history. For instance, many acoustic guitars made before the 1990s have featured Brazilian rosewood backs/sides, yet due to CITES restrictions placed upon that species, East Indian rosewood became a much more common species on newer guitars. (And this is a continuing shift as newer replacements are sought for rosewoods altogether.)

How large is the piece of wood?

Some species of trees are typically very small—some are even considered shrubs—while others get quite large. For instance, if you see a large panel or section of wood that’s entirely black, chances are it’s either painted, dyed, or stained: Gaboon ebony and related species are typically very small and very expensive.

What is the wood’s intended use?

Simply knowing what the wood was intended for—when considered in conjunction with where it came from and how old it is—can give you many clues to help identify it. In some applications, certain wood species are used much more frequently than others, so that you can make an educated guess as to the species of the wood based upon the application where it was used. For instance, in the United States: many older houses with solid hardwood floors have commonly used either red oak or hard maple; many antique furniture pieces have featured quartersawn white oak; many violins have spruce tops; many closet items used aromatic red cedar, and so forth. While it’s not a 100% guarantee, “profiling” the wood in question will help reduce the number of possible suspects, and aid in deducing the correct species.

6. Find the X-Factor.

Sometimes, after all the normal characteristics of a sample have been considered, the identity of the wood in question is still not apparent. In these instances—particularly in situations where a sample has been narrowed down to only a few possible remaining choices—it’s sometimes helpful to bring in specialized tests and other narrower means of identification.

The following techniques and recommendations don’t necessarily have a wide application in initially sorting out wood species and eliminating large swaths of wood species, but will most likely be of use only as a final step in special identification circumstances.


Believe it or not, freshly machined wood can have a very identifiable scent. When your eyes and hands can’t quite get a definitive answer, sometimes your nose can. Assuming there is no stain, finish, or preservative on or in the wood, quickly sand, saw, or otherwise machine a section of the wood in question, and take a whiff of the aroma.

Although new scents can be very difficult to express in words, many times the scent of an unknown wood may be similar to other known scents. For instance, rosewoods (Dalbergia spp.) are so named for their characteristic odor that is reminiscent of roses. Although difficult to directly communicate, with enough firsthand experience scents can become a memorable and powerful means of wood identification.


While certain woods can appear basically identical to one another under normal lighting conditions, when exposed to certain wavelengths—such as those found in blacklights—the wood will absorb and emit light in a different (visible) wavelength. This phenomenon is known as fluorescence, and certain woods can be distinguished by the presence or absence of their fluorescent qualities. See the article Fluorescence: A Secret Weapon in Wood Identification for more information.

Black Locust: fluorescence (under blacklight)
Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) glows a bright yellow-green when placed under a blacklight.

Chemical Testing

There are only a small number of chemical tests regularly used on wood, most of which are very specialized and were developed to help distinguish easily confused species with one another. They work by detecting differences in the composition of heartwood extractives. A chemical substance (called a reagent) is usually dissolved in water and applied to the wood surface: the surface is then observed for any type of chemical reaction (and accompanying color change) that may occur. Two of the most useful are the tests that are meant to separate Red and White Oak, and Red and Hard Maple.

Heartwood Extractives Leachability

Sometimes a wood species will have heartwood extractives that will be readily leachable in water and capable of conspicuously tinting a solution of water a specific color. For instance, the heartwood extractives contained in osage orange (Maclura pomifera) contain a yellowish-brown dye that is soluble in water. (This can sometimes be observed anecdotally when the wood is glued with a water-based adhesive: the glue’s squeeze-out is an unusually vibrant yellow.)

In a simple water extract color test, wood shavings are mixed with water in a vial, test tube, or other suitably small container, and the color of the water is observed after a few minutes. If the heartwood extractives are leachable by water, then a corresponding color change should quickly occur.

In addition to osage orange (Maclura pomifera)merbau (Intsia spp.), and rengas (Gluta spp. and Melanorrhoea spp.) are also noted for their readily leachable heartwood extractives. Because this property is quite uncommon, it can serve to quickly differentiate these woods from other lookalikes.

7. Look at the endgrain.

Perhaps no other technique for accurate identification of wood is as helpful and conclusive as the magnified examination of the endgrain. Frequently, it brings the identification process from a mostly intuitive, unscientific process into a predictable, repeatable, and reliable procedure.

Looking at the endgrain with a magnifier shouldn’t be a mystifying or esoteric art. In many cases, it’s nearly as simple as examining small newsprint under a magnifying glass. There are three components necessary to reap the full benefits contained in the endgrain:

I. A prepared surface.

When working with wood in most capacities, it becomes quickly apparent that endgrain surfaces are not nearly as cooperative or as easily worked as face grain surfaces. However, in this case, it is absolutely critical that a clear and refined endgrain surface is obtained.

For a quick glance of a softwood sample, a very sharp knife or razor blade can be used to take a fresh slice from the endgrain. However, in many denser species, especially in tropical hardwoods, one of the best ways to obtain a clear endgrain view is through diligent sanding. It’s usually best to begin with a relatively smooth saw cut (as from a fine-toothed miter saw blade) and proceed through the grits, starting at around 100, and working up to at least 220 or 320 grit, preferably higher for the cleanest view.

II. The right magnifier.

It need not be expensive, but whatever tool is used to view the endgrain should have adequate magnifying power. In most instances, 10x magnification is ideal, however, anything within the range of 8 to 15x magnification should be suitable for endgrain viewing. (Standard magnifying glasses are typically in the range of 2 to 4x magnification.)

These stronger magnifiers, sometimes called loupes, usually have a smaller viewing area than standard magnifying glasses. Fancier models—with built in lights, or larger viewing surfaces—are available at a premium; but the most basic models are usually only a few dollars.


III. A trained eye.

The third element that constitutes a proper endgrain examination is simply knowing what to look for. In analyzing the patterns, colors, shapes, and spacing of the various anatomical features, there is a veritable storehouse of information within the endgrain—all waiting to be unlocked. Yet, if these elements have not been pointed out and learned, the array of features will simply seem like an unintelligible jumble. The discipline of recognizing anatomical endgrain features is not easily summed up in a few sentences or even a few paragraphs, but it is nonetheless critical to the identification process. To this end, an in-depth look should be given to the various categories, divisions, and elements that constitute endgrain wood identification on the macroscopic level. (In this regard, macroscopic denotes what can be seen with a low-powered, 10x hand lens—without the aid of a microscope—rather than simply what can be seen with the naked eye.) Because the anatomy between softwoods and hardwoods is so divergent, each will be considered and examined separately:

Still stumped?

If you have a mysterious piece of wood that you’d like identified, you’ve got a few options for next steps:

USDA’s Forest Products Laboratory

You can mail your physical wood samples to the Center for Wood Anatomy Research


  • Free
  • Professional wood identification


  • Only available to US citizens
  • Slow turnaround times (up to a month or more)
  • Limited to three IDs per year

See their Wood ID Factsheet for more info.

Alden Identification Service

You can mail your physical wood samples (even small sections taken from antiques) to Alden Identification Service.


  • Professional wood identification
  • Faster turnaround times (ranging from a few days to a week or two)


  • Paid service

See their ordering page for more info. (Note that Harry Alden has written several books while at USDA, including both Hardwoods and Softwoods of North America.)

Ask for help online

If the wood ID is merely a curiosity, or non-critical, you can post pictures of the wood in question.


  • Free
  • No need to send physical samples


  • Greatly limited by the quality of the pictures provided
  • Extra work usually required to get adequate clarity in photos

See article of Common US Hardwoods to help find the most commonly used woods.

Get the hard copy

wood-book-standupIf you’re interested in getting all that makes The Wood Database unique distilled into a single, real-world resource, there’s the book that’s based on the website—the Amazon.com best-seller, WOOD! Identifying and Using Hundreds of Woods Worldwide. It contains many of the most popular articles found on this website, as well as hundreds of wood profiles—laid out with the same clarity and convenience of the website—packaged in a shop-friendly hardcover book.
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Can you help identify this wood so I can have more cabinets made


Hi, I picked up some bits of this wood from a local timber yard, in North Queensland, Australia. I haven’t been able to identify what it is, as I’m new to woodworking, and the yard owner wasn’t sure, as he had just bought the yard and was still figuring out what was there. I’ve done some work on a bit, and it has an almost shimmering effect in the right light (couldn’t get it on camera), it’s quite hard and has a distinct scent, especially when I plane it. The bits I got still had a much lighter sapwood still… Read more »

Davy Boy

Looks like laburnum. This is a small tree though, so the planks you have would have to have come from a large specimen. If it is laburnum, take great care maching and handling it as all parts of the tree are poisonous.


I’m trying to identify some veneer from a mid-century looking piece. Photos include one with finish on, one of the inner side which does not look finished and one with finish scraped off.


Hello! I think this is Douglas Fir but am not 100% certain – would love an expert’s confirmation! Thank you!


Thank you Eric!


Help please, looking to buy a house that has this wood EVERYWHERE, doors, baseboards, door jams etc, love the wood not the color. Can you tell what wood it is and can i restain it a different color?


was used for a humidor, was told it was spanish red cedar but I’m questioning the authenticity of that. Picture is all i have to go off of.

Last edited 4 days ago by Stefan
Trevor Allen

I was wondering if you can confirm what type of wood this is. I used it as a test piece for my home built CNC but I have no idea what the wood is. I thought it might be ambrosia maple. I received the wood from a local pipe supplier as scrap lumber from their shipments. I am in Canada (Saskatchewan).

Trevor Allen

Hi. I live in Canada (Saskatchewan). However I got some dunage hardwood from a company the brings in pipes. So I don’t know where this wood would have come from. Most of the wood has been maple and white oak however I just milled some of the boards and this wood seems different. The reddish hue is throwing me off on what it might be. I though maybe cherry. Hopefully you can assist.

Trevor Allen

Hopefully these ones are better.

Liz Rivera

You’re a good egg, Eric Meier! You have provided more than 2,000 people with answers to their most challenging wood-related questions!! To me, that’s an amazing feat. Hoping you can help me as well. Riverside, CA. Home built in 1956. Part of the “Sungold” series of tract homes. Many of which are right here in Riverside where just last week, the thermometer hit a staggering 117°! Miserable as Hell! Toss in a Global Pandemic, the biggest and most catastrophic and costly fire season on record. Just glad to be here. This is a drawer from the kitchen. From stripping via… Read more »


Hi, an 1870’s American clock case I’m guessing walnut? Heavily stained unfortunately. I cleaned the spot of shellac for a cleare grain view. Not positive of the crown mounding though.


Great article! I’m a newbie and am trying to educate myself a bit more on wood in general. What do you think this is? It’s the top of a piece I’m in the process of refinishing.


Any idea what type of wood this is? Looking to make some fixes to a water stain!


could you please identify this. I have four pieces and each is around 59.2 lbs/ cubic foot

unknown end.JPG
unknown face.JPG

im in North Vietnam

Ed B

Hi Eric and thank you for all this information. I am trying to identify the wood type of my wainscoting from my home in Pennsylvania. Any ideas? It is an older house built in 1860s, though I can’t be sure how old the wood is.



Found this wood in my late fathers workshop. The white wood is very hard and heavy. Looks like sycamore and maple. Its just too hard to be either of those I think. The two peices are the same wood. Just one half is turned. No distinct smell to the wood. Really bad end grain tear out on the bowl.

I presume Eric will reply so thank you very much Eric.


Hi Eric.
Apologies for the European measurement, but the density is 853kg/m3. Which isn’t sycamore or hard maple.


Hi Eric.
I found it at the back of my fathers workshop in West Wales, so its probably been in there for about 30 years. He was a cabinet maker so he has lots of peices of hardwood scattered around and could be anything. Its very dry.
Could it be satinwood or yellowheart? Were they readily available decades ago?
Your doing a very good job here Eric. Well done.


Thank you very much Eric. Your time is much appreciated.

Lenea Green

Hi! Just purchased this old trestle table and was told (not with much confidence though) that it’s from the 1940s. I’m thinking maybe alder but would love to know your opinion. Photos are once the finish was stripped.


Hi Eric,

My boss bought some property and it had huge beams of this wood. It’s very hard and dense and it kind of stinks. Any ideas?


Hi Eric! I can’t find anyone who can tell me what kind of wood this antique bed is made of. Can you help? And, no, the grain is not painted on. Thanks!


what kind of wood is this?

John Morphis

Hi Eric, I have a home in Buffalo NY built in 1911. The sheathing and framing were done in a rough cut lumber that I assume is a type of spf but want to know if it has any treatment to it, since it has a red tint to it and I cannot seem to match it to anything. There is scrap wood around and if it has any type of treatment I won’t use it, if it’s fine I’d love to use it. It seems like a soft wood but has more toughness and “meat” than any softs I… Read more »

John Morphis

The last pic is the best shot of the end grain I could get.

Lianne Hanson

what wood would you say this is? I thought Acacia but someone else said Dalbergia Sissoo?

Cora Skylark

Hello Eric, could you please help identify these two types of veneer. The lighter one has very ‘orange-y’ tint to it which I’d like to sand down and make it look more natural. The middle is a darker one which I think I will need to replace as the knots (the dot like looking at the bottom) are peeling off. I’m in the UK and I’ve seen lots of older furniture of this type so must have been a trend at some point. I’d greatly appreciate your help. Cora

Larry Zarra

Hi Eric, I hope you can help ID this wood I got from a local tree trimmer. Location is Spring, Texas, just north of Houston. Bark is about 1/8 inch thick. Sapwood is 1/2 inch thick, and is essentially white. Heartwood is light brown to olive green hued with hints of dark mustard color. I am uploading a photomicrograph of the endgrain (not sure if image actually uploaded). Thank you, Larry

Norman Lucia

please help me identify this piece of wood ,it is stumping me ,i live and acquired this wood in florida it was already milled ,i dont remember where i got it, it was in with my other woods from years ago when i was working with wood alot. it is hard and dense ,i cant make out the odor i think it might be in the hickory family , thanks in advance, Sincerely , Norman

face sanded heavy as oak very hard.jpg
endgrain of sample.jpg
edna Hanson

Please identify if possible. Possibly from India. Thank you

Edna Hanson

Ok,ty. It’s a hard wood if that helps. Did the fingernail test.


My previous comment did not attach pic
Need help with identifying all 3 wood and colors
I have refinish them


I have to refinish my furniture but I don’t know why color/types could you help


Hi Eric. could you identify these for me? I got then in China, Yunnan province


Ok thanks. how about these pieces?

Nathan Helfman

Wood being orthotropic, could you clarify how Wood Database mechanical properties bare derived? For example, from which set of axes is the modulus of elasticity derived?


Hi Eric,
Thanks for getting back. I’ll explain the source of my question. The book published by the US Department of Agriculture, “Wood Handbook, Wood as an Engineering Material” publishes the value of the Modulus of Elasticity for Black Walnut as 11,600 MPa, which agrees most perfectly with “The Wood Database” value of 11.59 GPa. However, at the bottom of 5-8 (Chapter 5, pg. 8), footnote “c” states, “Modulus of elasticity measured from a simply supported, center-loaded beam, on a span depth ratio of 14/1.” Center loaded, that is to say, a radial load, and not longitudinal. Confusing.


Ok, my turn! Was given several peices of wood that came from central and south america 20+ years ago. I think the bulk of it is brazilian cherry. There are a couple darker peices as well and at least one snakewood peice. First two pics guessing are the brazilian cherry. Not sure on third pic. Will add end grain in next post.


Here is an end grain of the second. Almost looks like purple heart… Wondering if they made a mistake on this one’s origin.

Julia Barling

I was recently given this unit, which I had just presumed was pine but after stripping it off I am not so sure. Could you please tell me what it is?

Julia Barling

Thanks for your reply Eric, the type of wood it is has totally baffled us! I’ve attached another picture as requested and the piece was purchased from an Eastern European lady in Dubai, so I’m afraid that probably isn’t much help as furniture from every corner of the world here!

Julia Barling

Thank you so much!!! ?


This peice of wood came from my dad. I remember him telling me about it and it was from a tree you could no longer harvest. I cant remember the name and cant be sure this is it but it weighs a ton this peice weighs about 15 pounds. Im afraid to do much to it in case it is a rare find


Unfortunately i have no way of knowing where it was harvested. I did sand it and there was no real distinctive smell to it. Just smelled like sanded wood.


Hello Eric, I bought a house that had a few rough sawn boards in the garage. Any idea what kind of wood this might be?


I just added your book to my wishlist. I have some reclaimed material from a home built in the 40’s in the northwest. The flat stock looks like vg fir as do the moldings, with the exception that they are both brown all the way through, not just on the surface due to UV exposure. when cut it has that familiar smell of old full dimensional lumber. Looks like fir. Smells like fir. But it’s brown, like a brown cedar. Is old growth fir brown? The material was milled 80 years ago so the tree is a few hundred years… Read more »


Here’s a picture of the molding. If freshly cut it looks the same.


This will seem far fetched based on what I’ve said so far, but I’m starting to think this is old growth vertical grain western red cedar. It’s harder than I would expect and it has only the slightest aroma when cut that doesn’t resemble cedar at all, but having never worked with 80 year old cedar it took me a while to come to this conclusion. I’ve been a carpenter for 35 years and I worked in a specialty plywood mill for 4 years as a young man. We actually made cedar plywood and that smell is etched in my… Read more »


I’m familiar with the odor of both, but this material has essentially no odor. I thought I got a hint of something initially when I cut it that smelled like old full dimensional lumber, which doesn’t smell anything like modern framing material, but I’m not getting that now and no one else is either. In fact no one smells anything. The color reminded me of cedar, but the grain looked like VG fir, so I headed down that path, but I think this is what a 200 year old tree looked like when milled 80 years ago. The grain is… Read more »


Hello. Any suggestions as to this wood type? I am refinishing a desk for my daughter. This has been sanded.


Thank you. This was the sanding after 80 grit. I continued to 220 for a nice smooth finish.

1 21 22 23